May 09

A little something for the al Qaeda operative in all of us

Article-0-0BF14C4E00000578-929_634x387 A little less than a week after the death of Osama bin Laden, New York-based Kuma Games has  introduced an Internet-based game called ‘Episode 107: The Death of Osama bin Laden.’ That’s nice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the free enterprise system, being first to market and all that, but check out this feature: game players can not only pretend to be members of the elite Navy Seals Team 6 that took down bin Laden, they can also choose to defend bin Laden. Yes, that’s right. Little Johnny can don a virtual robe and turban, pick up his AK-47 replica and begin wasting some of the storming Navy Seals operatives. That’s just so wrong in so many ways that it defies logic.

If I had lost a loved one on 9/11, or in one of the two wars that followed on its heels, I’d be planning to launch a personal Jihad against these bozos. And, I wouldn’t build-in an option for players to defend Kuma Games either.

Can you imagine your 11-year-old son, double-clicking on episode 107 link and yelling, “Hey mom, I’ll be down for dinner in a half hour or so. My al Qaeda mates and I have to disrupt this Navy Seals operation. It’s imperative we get bin Laden and his family safely away.”

Episode 107 is billed as the latest in a franchise of video games that recreate military missions, including the capture of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. There’s no indication if the Kuma Klan also provided an option for game players to defend Hussein and secret him away to another, new hiding place. But, they probably did. Nor is there any indication whether Kuma has created similarly-themed video games that enable players to say, whisk Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun away from their Berlin bunker in early May of 1945, or find an escape route from Elba that would provide Napoleon one last shot at conquering Europe and killing millions.

I’m not a child psychologist, but enabling an impressionable youngster to defend bin Laden might tend to soften the youngster’s views towards the mass murderer, no? And, in my mind, that could lead to any number of unintended, and very serious, real world consequences.

So, let me borrow a page out of the Ronald Reagan speech book and demand of Mr. Kuma (or whatever nut job runs the company) to: Take down that game!

Tip o' RepMan's Green Beret to Catharine "Goose" Cody for the idea for this post.

Feb 24

Don’t toy with us

Today's guest post is co-authored by Peppercommers Sara Whitman Ramos (pictured) and Brendan Mullin.

PhotoPeppercom’s motto has always been to work hard, play hard. So, what better way to live that  motto than to hang out at last week’s Toy Fair? Brendan Mullin and Sara Whitman (that’s us) took on the show, meeting with influencers and manufacturers, and of course stopping a bit to goof around with some of the latest and greatest in playthings.

Organized by the Toy Industry Association, Toy Fair 2011 hosted 300 exhibitors, making this a very good year. Association leadership was quoted as saying, “This kind of positive news reaffirms Toy Fair’s reputation as the epicentre of toy and youth product creativity, originality and excellence in the Western Hemisphere.”

To get some perspective on that, we had the chance to speak with industry veterans, Claire Green and Wendy Smolen, co-founders of The Sandbox Summit. In addition to providing much-needed advice for tackling Toy Fair – Hydrate! Snack! – they also shared their thoughts about the state of Toy Fair, and whether or not the show is living up to its reputation:
What are your thoughts about the quality of exhibitors you saw this year in comparison to previous years?

There was a much more upbeat quality to this year's Toy Fair than in the past two years. The quality of exhibitors was basically the same. You have the classic big guys, the mid-size companies who are always trying to muscle their way in, and the innovative new guys. It's an interesting mix.
 
We agree. Everyone was happy. We weren’t sure if it was the promise of better economic times, the toys or just something in the air. At one point, that “something” in the air was flying marshmallows from The Marshmallow Fun Company.
 
What trends are you seeing that are particularly exciting?  Technology always grabs headline. Here are a few themes:
 
1. This year we saw the reverse trend of apps transforming into product. Classic online games like Angry Birds and Tetris both moved off the screen and onto the table.
 
2. 3-D. Hasbro, Mattel, Spinmaster, and others all brought out products that can be viewed in 3-D.
 
3. iPads/iPods as toys. More and more companies are creating apps to play on the iPad. Discovery Bay introduced Yoomi, using a device that turns an iPad into a game. VTech introduced a kid-friendly alternative to the iPad. Hasbro had My3D, which lets a player play 3-D games on an iphone; Fisher Price introduced a kid-tough case for a parent's iPhone. 
 
4. New technology. We saw a laser printer that colors Barbie's hair (Fisher Price) and a voice-activated car (Bandai).
 
5. Great thinking games. ThinkFun, Gamewright, FatBrain, BriarPatch, WorkForge, Blue Orange all had imaginative, creative ways to play.
 
There’s no doubt that technology and toys will continue merging in fun and unusual ways. One of Sara’s favorites was a ping-pong playing robot from Tosy, a Vietnamese company. B tried to take him on, but the robot was scared silly by his paddle-wielding skills.
 
Anything that toy manufacturers are not addressing effectively or as well as you’d like to see?
We’re always surprised to see traditional packaging geared towards “girls” and “boys.” It’s the 21st century and time to grow beyond the pink and blue.
 
And to close, what catches your eye when you’re walking the floor?
Having been immersed in toys for so many years, what catches our eye is what has not been done before or is now being done in a smarter, more fun way. It's the "slap your forehead" moment. It always makes you smile. And that's really what toys should do.
 
To our ears, sounds like Toy Fair nailed it on all three counts – creativity, originality and excellence.

But, we’d like to hear from Repman readers. Do you think the current state-of-the-art in toys is better than previous generations? Are toys safer?

In the meantime, stay tuned for more from our day of play at Toy Fair 2011…coming soon. Now, give me that toy!